Cats make excellent companions. They share the spotlight with dogs in the most popular pet arena. A cat can adapt to most home environments easily and can make itself comfortable in a small city apartment as well as a large country house. Although cats need care and affection, they are generally considered low-maintenance in comparison to their canine counterparts. Cats can be loving, affectionate pets that quickly become cherished members of their human families.
The domestic house cat descended from the African wildcat and has lived in domestication with humans for approximately 9,000 years. Cats were regarded very highly in Ancient Egypt . Cats kept vermin under control and in return were rewarded with a lifestyle befitting royalty. In fact, cats were considered sacred and were even worshiped as demigods. The goddess Bast, daughter of the sun god Ra, was the protector of cats. All cats were the property of the Pharoah and laws were enacted to protect the feline population. It was considered a crime to harm a cat in any way. Killing or injuring a cat was punishable by death.
There are many different breeds of cats. Among the most common and/or popular cat breeds are the American Shorthair, Persian, Siamese, Angora, Colorpoint, Abyssinian, Manx, Russian Blue and Burmese. Domestic house cats can have different body types but usually fall into one of two types. The oriental body type is long and sleek with a slender face and neck, as well as long legs. The cobby body type is compact and stocky with a broad face and neck with shorter legs. A cat's coat can be solid in color or multicolored. It may appear striped or in various patterns.
The normal body temperature for a cat is between 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Cats have 30 teeth and 24 whiskers. Felines have five claws on their front paws and four on the back. Cats walk on their toes. An interesting fact about cats is that they have free floating clavicle bones (what we would refer to as the collar bone in humans). This allows cats to be flexible enough to fit into small spaces. Cats have retractable claws. When they walk, both front and hind legs on the same side move in unison. The average weight of a domestic house cat is five to 15 pounds, although some cats weigh much more. The cat's olfactory sense (smell) is on average 15 times stronger than that of a human. Cats sleep much more than most mammals and may sleep up to 15 to 20 hours per day. Cats cannot distinguish the taste of sweetness. There are 32 muscles in the ear of a cat. Cats can move each ear independently of the other.
One of the most well known myths about cats is that they always land on their feet. Although there is truth to the statement, cats do not always land on their feet and may sustain serious injuries from a fall. Cats do have excellent balance, flexibility and agility and therefore are usually able to correctly position themselves and land on their feet (but not always). Another myth is that cats should be fed milk. Although cats may love the taste of milk, they lack the enzyme necessary to digest dairy products properly, making them lactose intolerant. In fact, milk usually causes diarrhea in cats. Another common myth is that cats have nine lives. The myth may have originated from the cat's skilled hunting prowess, ability to remain still for long periods of time and stalk silently. The cat's skillful demeanor can help it to successfully elude harm, but the cat is not immune to disease or accident. Feral cats may only survive one to four years, whereas domestic cats that are kept exclusively indoors can live on average 15 years or longer.
In the wild, cats are skilled hunters. Even domesticated house cats retain their natural predatory instinct. Cats are carnivores and need meat in their diets. In their natural environment, cats kill and eat several different species. When kept indoors in a domestic environment, cats do not have the advantage of naturally supplementing their diet through hunting. They must eat what their human caretakers feed them, which is why it is so important for pet owners to purchase the best quality pet food they can to ensure their cat's good health. Even so, a cat's diet should still be supplemented with raw meat. Cats require an organic acid known as taurine which they normally obtain by eating meat. Taurine is necessary for healthy eyes in cats. Without taurine, a cat can suffer eye disease, such as macular degeneration, that might lead to blindness.
Female cats become sexually mature at four to 10 months of age. Their gestation period is approximately nine weeks. The average litter size is three to five kittens, although there may be more. Kittens are usually weaned by eight weeks and may be separated from the mother by 10 weeks of age. Cats are superfecund, which means a litter can contain kittens from different fathers. Male cats can be very territorial and will fight for dominance in the hierarchy and the right to mate first with the female in heat. They will also spray urine to mark territory and attract females. Getting your cat spayed or neutered can prevent unwanted litters and lessen spraying and territorial fighting. It can also help prevent disease such as cancer. Cat lovers know that sharing your life with a cat can sometimes be a challenging, yet rewarding, experience.
Darlene Zagata has been a professional writer since 2001, specializing in health, parenting and pet care. She is the author of two books and a contributing author to several anthologies. Zagata attended the Laurel Business Institute to study in the medical assistant/secretarial program. She earned her associate degree through the U.S. Career Institute.